/ 20 July 2004

Sea Change

When one thinks of coastal radio listeners thoughts immediately turn to drunk and surly chokka fishermen and perpetually stoned surfers sitting around in windswept beach carparks, in rusty vehicles, waiting for the latest weather and swell advisories. Thoughts turn naturally to the type of sokkie jol treffers, lang arm liedjies and polkas emanating from radios in retirement villages and caravan parks from Amanzimtoti to Mossel Baai. But it has been less than ten years since most coastal radio stations were liberated from the state broadcaster and trusted into the hands of private enterprise, and in that time their sound, listenership and ad revenue has metamorphosed. Stations that used to play second banjo to the national pulse of 5fm are now jamming in the main act. Most coastal radio stations are achieving integrated market share in areas that were previously written off because of the size of the wealth divide and their distance from the primary urban economies that fuel rapid socio-economic change.

East Coast Radio in KwaZulu-Natal is one of the most striking examples. Owned by Kagiso Media, East Coast has managed to turn around a small, predominanty white, backwater station into a thriving success, based on a strategy mix of personality and humour driven shows, relevant local content, and the right music for the audience. Executive director of broadcasting at Kagiso Media, Omar Essack, explains: ”When you have the ability to focus on your area of interest, where your customers reside, you certainly have an advantage over a national station. National radio has too many priorities, which dilutes their focus.”

With a current listenership of over 1.8 million listeners (Rams 2003b), almost 500,000 more than 5fm, East Coast is a good example of the shift away from national broadcasting to more targeted local broadcasts.

”In the drive shows the personalities are critical,” says Essack. ”Durban is pretty laid back, fairly friendly and has a nice coastal vibe. We work very hard to ensure the personalities that are speaking to our customers are from the region, so that they are tuned in with that environment. We know that anybody can copy your music, ultimately it is about the talent to keep people entertained.”

In many ways East Coast Radio’s success has hinged on their ability to attract black and Indian listeners. The station has proven to be a case study in appealing to an integrated market.

Says Essack: ”In around 1998 we started to bring in African listenership in significant numbers and currently our African listenership is around a million. The strategy began in ’97 when the station was freed, or liberated, from the SABC. There’s nothing wrong with white people, we love white people, but it wasn’t representing the economic or social realities of the region. And a radio station, in order to be relevant, has to communicate equally well with its audience. Because we’re a commercial radio station we also have to be mindful of delivering to advertisers an audience that is affluent. And the affluence in KZN is certainly not only with white people. So it was a phased approach and the first phase was to build credibility and trust between the brand and Indian listeners, which we did hugely successfully. We now have more Indian listeners in KZN than Lotus FM. So that was the first big step.

”The second step was to build the same trust with an African listenership that had never bothered to sample this brand before. If you just slap a billboard and some posters in Umlazi you’re going for a token approach. It’s a superficial response to a customer. People are not stupid, they understand whether you are sincere or not. We went in and met with community leaders and started to understand what the priorities of those markets were. So forget the commercial imperative, but go in there and show that you really care. As a station within the SABC they’d never bothered to show any interest in that community before. So we went into those communities and we did work in community halls and with charities. We gave soccer tournaments for youngsters and distributed t-shirts. We didn’t just go once, but many times to show that we were committed. And as we grew, we also started to fine-tune our music product. We managed to retain the audience that was our foundation and built new audiences.”

There are other stations in KwaZulu-Natal attempting to challenge East Coast’s regional hegemony, but at the moment they’re not making a huge dent. There’s P4, with 509,000 listeners, and the state run, nationally broadcast Lotus FM, the traditional Indian station that manages an almost exclusively Indian listenership of 474,000 (Amps 2003b).

In the Western Cape the scenario is similar, with private broadcaster Kfm leading the charge, followed by the SABC’s Good Hope FM, and then the other P4. But coastal radio stations in the Western Cape achieve meaningful integration in terms of their listenership only so far as white and coloured listeners go. Substantial black listenership in the Western Cape seems split between national stations such as Umhlobo Wenene and Metro FM.

Kfm, with its bilingual Afrikaans/English format and adult contemporary programming has a steadily increasing listenership currently sitting at 1.15 million (Amps 2003b). The demographic split of the station is the most representative in the region, with roughly 58% coloured, 33% white and 8% black. By attracting a predominantly upper LSM audience, Kfm earned a whopping R129,723,505 (AIS/Adex:2003) last year and has recently been acquired from New Africa Investments Limited (Nail) by Primedia, owners of 94.7 Highveld Stereo, 702 and Cape Talk. Dan Moyane, executive chairman of broadcasting at Primedia, explains: ”Radio has been sitting stable at about 14 to 15% of the share of the total media spend in South Africa, so the slice of radio in the cake is still the same. As a company we had to get another asset into the business. We wanted another FM station and then Kfm became available. Kfm has been doing very well, it’s an attractive asset. But most importantly, it has huge potential for growth.”

Good Hope FM is second in the Western Cape with a predominantly coloured audience of 588,000 (Amps 2003b), but the difference is that it’s youth focussed. The other coastal radio stations are strictly adult contemporary in terms of programming. GHFM has distinguished itself with a young vibe and a strong commitment to fresh local music and youth genres like house and hip hop. But it will need to break more ground with both black and white listenership if it is to adequately represent the youth of the Western Cape, and rake in the advertising titos.

On the subject of titos, P4 is an interesting example in both Durban and Cape Town because, although they are the fastest growing radio stations in the country in terms of listenership, the revenue is not yet following suit. In one Rams diary they have increased their listenership in both Durban and Cape Town by over 100,000 listeners each (to 468,000 in Cape Town and 509,000 in Durbs) (Rams 2003b). With a coloured listening majority in Cape Town, 83% of P4’s listenership, the programming is urban adult contemporary jazz and mainly focuses on pop, vocal jazz and R&B aiming at 25+ urbanites.

”We attract our audience through our product, which is the music, and that is augmented by the on air personalities we have,” says Selwyn Bartlett, programme manager for P4, Cape Town. A significant feature of P4’s new success is their local music count, ‘cos traditional wisdom has it that home grown content is not supposed to be a crowd puller. ”The new quota is 25%, we said we’d play 30% but we’re actually well beyond that. We play between 40 and 45% local music.”

In Durban the formatting of P4 is very different, as is the demographic. P4 Durban attracts 93% black listenership and the programming is more akin to Kaya FM in Jozi than the sister P4. ”P4 99.5fm programming is geared to the lifestyle of listeners, with a range of music genres from jazz to R&B, soul and lots of local African contemporary music, which falls within our adult contemporary jazz format,” says Toni Kleinsmith, P4’s national sales and marketing manager.

So in both regions the revenue should come soon, and with regulator Icasa’s recent relaxation of ownership rules the P4s look to be one of the best buys in the market. The question is how long they’ll stay relatively cheap.

The Eastern Cape is dominated by one station, Port Elizabeth-based Algoa FM. Algoa does a transmit split and puts out a special regionally focussed broadcast to the East London area, under the BRFM banner. With its listenership pegged at 479,000 (Rams 2003b), Algoa has focussed on unique ways of attracting advertising spend that tends to flow to the national commercial stations.

”We’ve got a new concept, the Algoa FM hit mobile which is really just mobile discos done up in station colours,” explains station manager Dave Tiltman, ”but has the flexibility to go into any store at any time and do three hour gigs, with live crossings on air. So it’s been a wonderful way to tap into new markets and it has played a huge roll in getting clients who were previously not on radio, excited about it. Because they can see the results coming through the door. It’s been our secret weapon.”

The station has also embarked on an aggressive approach to attract new markets through diversification and integrating their listenership.

”If you look back six, seven years ago when we were part of the SABC, it was a very much white dominated audience with a third of the listeners being coloured. Now if you look at the percentages, of the 479,000 listeners that we have, black and coloured listenership amounts to 280,000, whereas our white audience makes up 195,000.”

Considering the success of privately owned coastal radio stations, it would be interesting to see the regulator Icasa spread the ball more widely with more diverse formatting licences. Aside from Good Hope FM’s youth orientation, all other coastal radio players are locked into the relatively safe niche of adult contemporary, churning out stock pop options of Celine Dion, Brian Adams, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Juluka and Mango Groove, which drives the stations straight into the heart of the 25+, suburban, upper LSMs. While they make for good businesses, they don’t always translate into entertaining, groundbreaking radio. What about passing the ball wide and putting youth and niche formatted stations to the test?

Ownership Breakdown

Algoa FM — 95% African Media Entertainment (AME), 5% Algoa Staff

East Coast Radio — 100% Kagiso Media

Kfm — Recently acquired by Primedia from New Africa Investments Limited, awaiting final ratification from Icasa

P4 104.9 & P4 99.5 — 80% Makana Investments, 20% P4 International

Good Hope FM — SABC

Lotus FM — SABC